A Melbourne fruit shop boss who grossly underpaid a refugee worker has been slapped with record fines – in a bid to deter others from exploiting their employees.
Ex-Sunshine Fruit Market owner and operator Abdulrahman Taleb has been ordered by Fair Work Australia to cough up $16,000 alongside company fines of $644,000 for “deliberately ignoring warnings about pay rates and withholding pay”, the ABC reports.
The Federal Circuit Court found the employee – an Afghani refugee who spoke limited English – was underpaid at almost half the minimum wage of $10 per hour to stack fruit and vegetables in the warehouse, with his wage capped at a maximum of $120 a day.
The court heard the worker should’ve been paid a normal rate of $17 per hour, $38 on weekends and $43 on public holidays.
Shockingly, he was also paid nothing at all across several weeks in 2012.
Across his employment did not receive required meal breaks – despite often working more than 12 hours a day.
Fair Work Australia calculated the worker was underpaid a total of $25,588 for two separate periods in 2012 and 2013.
The punishment reportedly sets a new record for the Fair Work Ombudsman, overtaking a fine handed out in February to a former owner-operator of a cafe in Albury.
Judge Philip Burchardt said the business was not lawfully operated, with the company breaching a number of workplace rules and regulations, with Taleb never apologizing for his actions.
"The underpayments were so significant that the total not paid to [the worker] was, in relative terms, enormous for such a short time," he said.
"I accept the submission of the [ombudsman] that the way it worked out was that [the worker] was paid wages of between $3.49 and $9.29 per hour."
Through seeking asylum in Australia, the worker spent time in a detention centre before he was released and granted residency in 2010.
"[The worker] was a vulnerable employee in that he was a recent arrival to Australia and totally lacked fluency in English, and could reasonably be understood to be most unlikely to be aware of any entitlements at law," Judge Burchardt continued.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the case sent a strong warning to employers.
"Employers who deliberately exploit vulnerable workers should be on notice that we will do everything in our power to hold you to account," she said.
"We have no sympathy for employers, as in this case, who arrogantly ignore direct advice from my agency about their wage obligations and exploit vulnerable members of the community in order to obtain a commercial advantage."